Friday, March 07, 2008

come, almighty, to deliver

I’m making a couple of corrections to a choral piece I wrote several years ago, which never got performed, but will be sung by my church choir this spring. It’s based on (portions of) the text of Psalm 18 (which is a very long psalm overall). In the score, I include the preface of the psalm, even though it’s not sung, because I find it a striking situation and a marvelous context in which to compose a poem:
A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.
For those not familiar with the setting, Saul is the king of Israel and has become angry with David, who is anointed to be the next king, and has been pursuing him through the wilderness (even though David provided great comfort to Saul during some periods of what appears to be mental illness). The chase ends when David is hiding in a cave, Saul and his men come in to rest for the night, and David sneaks up to Saul and cuts a piece off of his cloak; in the morning he calls out to Saul and shows him the piece of cloth. Saul sees that David had a chance to kill him, yet spared his life, and so he repents and stops seeking to kill him. David, rejoicing, writes this song of thanks and praise.

Here is David’s description of God’s intervention:
Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.
Out of the brightness before him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
Amazing! We have the story; we know exactly what happened, and there were no storms and hailstones and lightnings involved. This gives some insight, I think, into how God’s people respond poetically to God’s faithfulness. By God’s might are we able to act, they say. We would have been overwhelmed, but for God’s help. And that help is magnificent. Even if we are surrounded by darkness, God breaks through the clouds and raises us up. That has always been his plan: to raise up his people, and through them the whole world.

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